Rose Bender, Whitehall
I was seven and afraid of hell. On the last night of a Billy Graham sponsored revival, in the gym of the public high school, I went forward to receive Christ. There I stood—a little person among all the big people. When they asked us to pray, I obediently closed my eyes and repeated the words. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and snuck a peek to see who was there. Although there were many around me, there was no one with me. Even at my young age, I knew that it was God himself who had placed his hand on my shoulder, alleviating my fears. Years later, reflecting on that event, I recognized its significance. With my limited understanding, I had chosen to follow God. But more importantly, my gracious and loving God had chosen me.
Since that day, I have often felt God’s hand on my shoulder—welcoming, encouraging, prodding, protecting, and guiding. God has many hands. I recall my mother telling me, “Rose, God has something special for you to do.” I remember a teacher questioning my college plans, asking me why I hadn’t considered going into full-time pastoral ministry. When I took a job at a school in Trenton, NJ, and settled in Langhorne, PA, my pastor encouraged me to ‘test out’ my calling by participating as a lay minister at the church. A co-worker invited me to attend an open house at a local seminary. And when I began attending Bethel Seminary of the East in 2000, God confirmed my call through many other hands.
After seminary, I was still timid about pastoring. I felt God directing me toward the Service Adventure program. I became a unit leader in Johnstown, PA, the only site with eight supporting churches. In my two years there, I received many opportunities to exercise my gifts through preaching and teaching. I served as lay pastor at First Mennonite of Johnstown, the unit’s ‘home church.’ There I was able to see Jesus in new ways. God’s hand touched me through the prayers of Joanne, a woman paralyzed since childhood. God’s hands washed mine through Sandy, a woman who was mentally and socially challenged. God spoke to me daily as I lived in community with young adults who saw the world differently than I did. God has many hands. As I matured in my faith, I experienced Jesus taking my hand in His, allowing me to participate in the work of ministry with him.
When the call came to serve as interim pastor at Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, I was ready. And I knew, though the calling and responsibility seemed overwhelming—the work was in God’s hand. I could look back over my journey and see how faithfully the God-Who-Goes-Before had led me. During my first months in that pastorate, I had an accident where I severely burned both my hands. I learned anew the importance of community. I learned for the first time, the humility that comes from being dependent upon the hands of others. In times of doubt, the hand of Jesus comforted me; in times of need, God’s hand provided for me; in times of joy, the hand of the Spirit invited me to dance.
When my time at Stahl was nearing its end, I became aware of Whitehall Mennonite Church, north of Allentown, PA. Their unique story and diversity intrigued me. I was impressed by the practicality and authenticity of their faith. But choosing to take a part-time pastorate seemed risky. Again, God’s hand was upon me and led me forward. I am excited to partner with the congregation at Whitehall—to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the Lehigh Valley.
I am forty-one, and still afraid of lots of things. But I am called and chosen by a God whose perfect love casts out all fear. God’s hand is upon me; my hand is in His; I am one of God’s many hands.
photos provided by Rose Bender